Mountain Wheels: Audi’s Q5 and SQ5 offer increasingly intense luxury SUV pleasure
One of the strongest luxury SUVs on the market gets a range of updates, producing a 2018 Audi Q5 that is more powerful and smoother than smooth. It’s a great car, but if you feel it’s not quite intense enough for you, the 2018 SQ5 will totally rock your world, with 354 horsepower, performance-oriented handling and a rigidity that will constantly remind you of the vehicle’s capability.
But let’s start with the not-so-boring standard model, where the standard 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is now good for 252 horsepower, producing zero-to-60 times a full second faster than the previous model — Audi’s top seller.
I got to roll around in the Mexican-manufactured Q5 with Quattro all-wheel drive, with a base price of $41,500 and a somewhat loftier $56,100 sticker price when goodies from 20-inch wheels to the all-digital electronic cockpit display were added.
Unless you need the larger-family hauling power of the more hulking Q7, Q5 is really just about right for me, with effortless, comfortable handling and power that makes today’s unavoidably aggressive highway speeds seem totally normal and easy to maintain. I also generated a very impressive 29.9 MPG overall in some 500 miles of freeway and city driving.
Q5 has started to incorporate the Q7’s more forward-looking design, making it a bit more angular. The flattened roof, soft character lines across the body and bigger wheel arches to push that AWD capability all contribute to a very pleasant, updated look.
Neither Q5-derived model has overly-soft seating compared to the domestics, but you’ll appreciate the support and easy, lower-to-the-ground seat access. You get a confident driving posture, clear views of the road and pleasant cabin space.
The new wide-body console, which I’ve previously encountered in the A4 Allroad, provides easy access to controls and a touchpad that runs the MMI infotainment system. Rear cargo space has been reoptimized, and as an option, mine came with a roll-up pet protection net system that firmly attaches in place.
The SQ5, meanwhile, takes that already pleasant platform and makes it a little more ornery, with a 3.0-liter turbo V-6 providing 354 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a considerable uptick in power and suggests a vehicle a little less likely to make it off-roading, though Quattro all-wheel drive is present.
The SQ5 starts at $54,300; my test vehicle was again loaded with options (sport suspension, Nappa leather seating, 21-inch wheels and the full digital cockpit) and stickered at $66,750.
Is the extra money worth it? If you like Q5’s size and stance but want to rocket along in true Audi style, of course. The experience is considerably more intense, and those who know what you’re driving will appreciate what you’re driving.
You get a cool-sounding thrumming when that V-6 fires up, and it really does pull like a monster when you feel the occasion to hit the high digits, quickly. That boost is substantial and never-ending, so be careful; zero to 60 happens in just over 5 seconds, and the car keeps going from there, very easily.
Steering feel is also light and ultra-responsive, even more so than the standard Q5, but I needed to be attentive at all times as you certainly needed to provide lots of inputs to keep it nailed down. There’s nothing lazy about the SQ5.
I enjoyed the ability to tone down the electronic dash to allow me to focus on a single virtual instrument cluster, which matched the vehicle’s more involved driving style.
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